Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Yahooti Chronicles

Yahooti was my mom's cat, but he ended up living with my grandparents when my mom and dad married and moved to Boston so dad could finish school.  After dad graduated he was appointed to the church in Elma and they moved into the ramshackle parsonage.  Shortly thereafter my grandparents also moved to Elma, two houses and a church away from the parsonage.  Yahooti then proceeded to divide his time between these two houses. 

I have been doing a bit of research in an attempt to discover the origin of Yahooti's name.  Yehudi Menuhin was a child prodigy back then and Cab Calloway recorded a song called "Where's Yahootie?" which became a popular catchphrase.  "Yahootie" became the name for a mysterious invisible prankster - people blamed him for everything!

Yahooti the cat was a calm soul.  As all cats were back then, he was an indoor/outdoor cat, and he was never neutered.  He stuck pretty close to his two homes, he enjoyed Grandma's lush flower garden, and he especially savored lounging in the shade of the tall peonies.  Hooti was a pretty laid back fellow.  Grandma said she once saw him carefully backing away from a threatening tomcat.  He was not a fighter. 

Here is a pencil drawing done by my uncle in 1941.  The scene depicted was a complete fabrication, artistic license. Hooti would never have been such a bad kitty.  The worst story I ever heard about him was about the paw prints in the frosting on the cake Grandma was about to serve to company.  She saved her reputation by placing walnut halves onto the cake - no one ever suspected the source of her inspiration!

Yahooti by Robert E. McPherson, 1941
Hooti was probably six or seven years old by the time I was born.  My mother got one of her madcap ideas for a great joke to play on her dad.  My grandfather was a skinny nervous kind of man (think Barney Fife).  He had steadfastly refused to "hold the baby" because he was afraid he would drop me.  So Mom weighed Hooti and and she weighed me every day until I weighed exactly as much as the cat.

Mom strolled over to their house with poor Yahooti completely swaddled in my blanket and she finally persuaded Grandpa to hold "me".  Of course by this time Hooti had had quite enough and he exploded out of my startled grandfather's arms.  That story was told and retold many times over the years.  I am not sure if Grandpa ever totally forgave Mom for that stunt.  It is a wonder he had not had a coronary.

Hooti and me

Yahooti was a polydactl - you can see his massive paws in the above photo.  In my childhood relationship with Yahooti I was taught how to behave around cats.  "Don't bother kitty when he's eating."  "Don't pull kitty's  tail."  "If you see kitty burying something in the garden, do not dig it up."  He and I spent many happy hours together and I shared my toys with him.

Yahooti and the mechanical wind-up bear
Yahooti was famous for his occasional forays through the furnace duct work.  Grandma would be trying to clean the vents and Hooti would disappear into the dark tunnel.  He could be heard thumping and banging along, then he would emerge in another room, all covered in dust and cobwebs.  Grandma always made sure to thank him for his assistance, and of course she helped him to restore his coat to its original color by cleaning off the soot.

Hooti was also given credit for inadvertently helping my mom out of a bad situation.   She had gone to the dentist in the city and the session was so lengthy her jaw had locked in the open position.  She came home on the bus, horribly embarrassed and even more frantic than usual.  The dentist had told her the jaw would close sooner or later.  Mom decided to try to take a nap, and as she lay in her bed, Yahooti came into the room and jumped up onto the dresser.  This was strictly forbidden (and he knew it).  Without thinking, Mom tried to yell, "Get down!" and her jaw snapped closed.  She gave him a big hug (how could she have been angry?), he had solved her problem!

Yahooti was probably fourteen or fifteen years old when we received a call from my grandparents that something was very wrong with him.  We no longer lived in Elma but Dad drove us to Grandma and Grandpa's house to assess the situation.  It was decided that Hooti was indeed a very sick kitty and my dad found a box for him and prepared to take him to the vet.  Everyone tried to reassure me that he would be OK, but even though I couldn't have been any more than six or seven I somehow knew that this was the last time I would ever see my little friend.  I remember asking my dad, "Hooti's not coming home, is he?"  I thought my dad would cry, he was so sad when he had to answer, "No, he's not."

Yahooti was the kind of cat who enjoyed life and took it as it came.  He radiated calm as my dad carried him out to the car.  I never saw Hooti again.  Since then I have had jumpy cats and scaredy cats and snuggle-bunny cats and needy cats and super smart cats and mischievous cats - but Hooti was just a big lug, my first big lug.  Yahooti was also my first love and no one ever forgets their first love.